FILMSMARCH 2016

(Cameron 1991) Ter­mi­na­tor 2: Judg­ment Day
(Pol­cino 1997) The Simp­sons: Ep.173 ― The Canine Mutiny
(Kirk­land 1997) The Simp­sons: Ep.174 ― The Old Man and the Lisa
(Band 1982) Par­a­site
(Moore 1997) The Simp­sons: Ep.175 ― In Marge We Trust
(Mar­ton 1966) Around the World Under the Sea
(Gilbert 1962) H. M. S. Defi­ant [aka Damn the Defi­ant!
(Rear­don 1997) The Simp­sons: Ep.176 ― Homer’s Enemy
(New­ton 2014) Rick and Morty: Ep.5 ― Meeseeks and Destroy
(King 1940) The Case of the Fright­ened Lady

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First-time listening for March 2016

27390. (Gin­ger Baker) Stratavar­i­ous
27391. (Paul Hin­demith) Ludus Tonalis, Kon­tra­punk­tis­che, tonal, und Klaviertech­nis­che
. . . . . Übun­gen
27392. (Beat Hap­pen­ing) Music To Climb the Apple Tree By
27393. (Oneo­htrix Point Never) Gar­den of Delete
27394. (Of Mon­sters and Men) Live from Vat­na­garðar
27395. (Per Nørgård) Sym­phony #1 Sin­fo­nia austera
27396. (Break­ing Ben­jamin) Break­ing Ben­jamin EP
27397. (La Rue Kétanou) Ouvert à Dou­ble Tour
27398. (Of Mon­sters and Man) Beneath the Skin
27399. (Deftones) Like Linus [demo]
27400. (David Bowie) Sta­tion to Sta­tion [1999 remas­ter]
27401. (Pro­tomar­tyrs) Under Color of Offi­cial Right
27402. (Isak Katayev) Bukhar­ian Tajik Shash­maqom [Таджикский Шашмаком]

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READINGMARCH 2016

26617. (Jules Verne) Paris au xxe siè­cle [read in Eng­lish trans­la­tion at 18241]
26618. (Thijs Van Kolf­schoten, et al) Lower Pale­olithic Bone Tools from the “Spear Hori­zon”
. . . . . at Schönin­gen [arti­cle]
26619. (Marie-Anne Julien, et al) Char­ac­ter­iz­ing the Lower Pale­olithic Bone Indus­try from
. . . . . Schönin­gen 12 II: A Multi-proxy Study [arti­cle]
26620. (Jordi Serangeli & Nicholas J. Conard) The Behav­ioral and Cul­tural Strati­graphic
. . . . . Con­texts of the Lithic Assem­blages from Schönin­gen [arti­cle]
26621. (Veerle Rots, et al) Residue and Microwear Analy­ses of the Stone Arti­facts from
. . . . . Schönin­gen [arti­cle]
26622. (Ernest Bramah) The Secret of Head­lam Height [story]
26623. (Li Liu & Xing­can Chen) The Archae­ol­ogy of China from the Late Pale­olithic to the
. . . . . Early Bronze Age

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Friday, March 25, 2016 [part 1] — Game of Caves

My appoint­ment at Gar­gas was for early in the after­noon, so I was able to have a pleas­ant and leisurely break­fast. In place of the stan­dard French baguette, there was a much more chewy local loaf known as quatre-banes, which I thought superb, per­fect with the fresh coun­try but­ter and jam. The cui­sine of Hautes-Pyrénees, like many other aspects of its cul­ture, is more closely in tune with that of the Basque Coun­try and Cat­alo­nia than with north­ern France (and indeed, the slang expres­sion nordiste is used by the locals with obvi­ous dis­dain). Beans and spicy sausages, coun­try soups, hard rather than soft cheeses, bread that you can get your teeth into. After break­fast, I still had plenty of time to reach the caves on foot. From Lom­brès, I walked down the road to the vil­lage of Aventig­nan (about three times larger than Lom­brès), then along a minor road to the cave’s recep­tion cen­ter, lit­tle more than 4km.

The road to the caves starting at Aventignan.

The road to the caves start­ing at Aventignan.

Only two cars passed me, and there was noth­ing much along the way but empty fields until the hills and for­est started. The weather was cool and over­cast. Often, when I’m walk­ing, music pops into my head in sur­pris­ingly com­plete form, and this time it was the Shepherd’s Song from Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne, sung in Old Occ­i­tan, the lan­guage of South­ern France before it was con­quered, re-educated, and reg­i­mented by the nordistes. The dialect of the Auvergne was con­sid­er­ably dif­fer­ent from the Gas­con spo­ken in this region, but it nev­erlthe­less puts across the South­ern mood:

As gaïré dè buon tèms?
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Pas­tré lou prat faï flour,
Li cal gorda toun troupel.
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

Pas­tré couci foraï,
En obal io lou bel riou!
Dio lou baïlèro lèrô,
Lèrô lèrô lèrô lèrô baïlèro lô.

(“Shep­herd across the river, your work there is hard. Look, the mead­ows here are in bloom. You should watch your flock on this side…. Shep­herd, the water divides us, and I can’t cross it”). Noth­ing at all like French. Incom­pre­hen­si­ble to all but a few surv­ing speak­ers of the Old Tongue, but the melody con­veys such a won­der­ful sad­ness and yearn­ing that it would be under­stood emo­tion­ally in Tokyo. In fact, it resem­bles many Japan­ese folk melodies.

The forest approaching the caves.

The for­est approach­ing the caves.

I soon reached the recep­tion cen­ter, which boasted a café, which was closed, and a small museum. It was here that I con­firmed my reser­va­tion. A staff archae­ol­o­gist was busy explain­ing how stone-age tools were used to some chil­dren, so I chose to walk up to the cave entrance and wait there for Alexan­dre Gay, who was to be my guide into another world.

Now is the time to explain why I had picked this par­tic­u­lar cave. Oth­ers are more famous, more spec­tac­u­lar, and eas­ier to get to.

Grad­u­ally, most of the pre­his­toric art caves are being closed off from pub­lic view. The mere pres­ence of human beings is destroy­ing the cave art, because the increase in the level of car­bon diox­ide caused by human breath­ing pro­motes the growth of a nasty green slime of bac­te­ria and algae on the cave walls. The famous art of Las­caux and Chau­vet have been nearly destroyed, and these caves are now sealed off. The French gov­ern­ment has spent a for­tune cre­at­ing replica “caves” for tourists. But I have lit­tle inter­est in view­ing these repli­cas. Good pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy and the appro­pri­ate tech­ni­cal reports will give me more infor­ma­tion, and no replica can pro­vide the real­ity of expe­ri­ence I seek. Gar­gas is not one of the more famous ones, and it is not con­ve­niently located. Unlike many of the caves, its exis­tence has been known for cen­turies, and in fact it has vis­i­tor grafitti from cen­turies past. Most of all, it has only a small amount of the ani­mal art that peo­ple asso­ciate with such caves.

But Gar­gas specif­i­cally has fas­ci­nated me since I ran across Claude Bar­rière & Ali Sahly’s L’art par­ié­tal de la Grotte de Gar­gas in a two-volume Eng­lish trans­la­tion pub­lished by Oxford’s British Archae­o­log­i­cal Reports. In the many years since I read it, the cave has haunted me. There are many ways in which it is pro­foundly dif­fer­ent from other pre­his­toric cave sites. First, and for­most, are its hands. Hand sten­cils, formed by plac­ing a hand against a stone sur­face and then spray­ing pig­ment onto it by con­trolled spit­ting — a slow process, but very pre­cise — are scat­tered through­out Europe, and can also be found in Africa, Indone­sia, Aus­tralia, and South Amer­ica. But Gar­gas has far more than any other site. In fact, it accounts for half of all the hand sten­cils in Europe. The sig­nif­i­cance of the hand-stencils is unknown. They exhibit great pecu­liar­i­ties. Many of them appear to have fin­gers miss­ing. This trig­gered var­i­ous the­o­ries based on anthro­po­log­i­cal par­al­lels, such as the cus­tom in some places of chop­ping off a fin­ger to sig­nify mourn­ing of a deceased loved one. Oth­ers sug­gested that fin­gers were being lost to frost­bite. But the num­ber of sten­cils at Gar­gas show­ing miss­ing fin­gers far exceeds the prob­a­bil­i­ties of these kinds of expla­na­tions. For­tu­nately, some­one even­tu­ally demon­strated that one needs only to bend a fin­ger under­neath one’s hand while spray­ing the paint to achieve the “miss­ing fin­ger” effect. Hand sten­cils of this type are much, much older than most of the fig­u­ra­tive art that is known in pre­his­toric caves. The famous ani­mal paint­ings at Las­caux were made around 20,000 years ago, and are asso­ci­ated with the Solutrean archae­o­log­i­cal cul­ture [archae­ol­o­gists des­ig­nate sim­i­lar com­plexes of arti­facts as “cul­tures”, but this should not be taken to mean a “cul­ture” as nec­es­sar­ily an eth­nic entity]. The art at Altamira is between 17,000 and 13,000 years old, and is asso­ci­ated with the Mag­dalanean cul­ture, and the images at Trois-Frères are push­ing to the edge of the Neolothic. Gar­gas con­tains some ani­mal art, and it too dates from around 15,000 years ago and is iden­ti­fi­ably Mag­dalanean. But the hand-stencils at Gar­gas date from more than 27,000 years ago, and are asso­ci­ated with the Gravet­t­ian cul­ture. This was before the last Glacial Max­i­mum. It is impor­tant to remem­ber that when the best rep­re­sen­ta­tional art was made at Gar­gas, the artists were near to work done by artists who were nearly as far back in time from them as they are from me.

Visitor photography is not permitted at Gargas. This and the next photos come from technical papers

Vis­i­tor pho­tog­ra­phy is not per­mit­ted at Gar­gas. This and the next pho­tos come from tech­ni­cal papers

The hand-stencils at Gar­gas are very sim­i­lar to ones found across the planet in Sulawesi, Indone­sia. Recent re-dating using “U-series” Uranium/Thorium dat­ing tech­niques have con­firmed that these were made 39,900 years ago. As in Europe, Asian hand-stencils tend to pre­date ani­mal art by sev­eral thou­sand years at the same loca­tions. The idea that art “orig­i­nated” in Europe is long aban­doned from seri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. Pari­etal art in Aus­tralia, Asia, and Africa can be dated to the same time depth, or earlier.

Another thing that is unique about Gar­gas: It is the only Euro­pean cave in which art co-exists with clear signs of human habi­ta­tion. In the famous caves in the Dor­dogne, for instance, there are caves nearby that were inhab­ited, but the art-caves were func­tion­ally sep­a­rate enti­ties. At Gar­gas, all the art is inside the cave, well beyond the lim­its of nat­ural light, and had its art had to made and seen by portable illu­mi­na­tion (prob­a­bly fat-lamps sim­i­lar to the ones used by the Innuit), but there was con­sis­tent, long-term habi­ta­tion at the cave mouth. Why Gar­gas should be unique in this way remains a mystery.

16-03-25 BLOG Hands 2small16-03-25 BLOG Hands 3small

A small group gath­ered below the cave entrance, at a place with a fine view of the val­ley below. M. Gay arrived, and after a brief talk led us into the upper cave. It is now only acces­si­ble through a locked door. For about an hour, Alexan­dre led us through about 500 metres of gal­leries. The upper cave is nar­row and wind­ing, but does not require any spe­cial skill to pass through. It con­tains some of the fig­u­ra­tive art. The nat­ural fea­tures of this cave, includ­ing a vari­ety of rock pil­lows, sta­lagtites and sta­lag­mites, cre­ated an appro­pri­ate atmos­phere of sus­pense as we pro­gressed. We came at last to an arti­fi­cial tun­nel that had been con­structed to con­nect the upper cave with the lower.

The lower cave is much big­ger and wider and con­tains the two main cham­bers and a small side-chamber called the Cham­bre du Camarin. Most of the cave art is here, includ­ing all of the hands. There seem to be at least three phases of devel­op­ment in the fig­u­ra­tive art. Ani­mals rep­re­sented include Bovi­dae, Bison, Mam­moth, Horses, Ibex, and pos­si­bly birds. For the most part, it con­sists of etch­ings into the stone, some­times com­bined with paint­ing. This is the sort of thing that does not come off well in pho­tographs, and only see­ing the real thing in situ con­veys its artis­tic qual­ity. I was not pre­pared for the emo­tional power of this art, hav­ing long assumed that it must be infe­rior to the famous stuff. At one point, we were asked to crouch on the ground to look up at one engrav­ing that could only be viewed from this angle.

But is the hands I was most inter­ested in. They had come to rep­re­sent, for me, a direct con­nec­tion to other human beings across a vast gulf of time. And despite all the prepa­ra­tion for the event, the real­ity of it drained me emo­tion­ally. They are not merely pretty, but shock­ing, in some­thing like the way that the ghostly shad­ows of vapor­ized humans on the walls of Hiroshima are shock­ing. These are not arti­facts, like the ani­mal draw­ings, the mobile art, or the lithic finds. They are shad­ows of human beings, of real peo­ple who thought and felt and loved and hated and cried and died. Their pres­ence in the cave was pal­pa­ble, as if they were por­traits of my own fam­ily on a bed­room dresser. And these peo­ple strug­gled to stay alive in a way per­fectly famil­iar to me — the hunt­ing of large mam­mals in a cold cli­mate, much like the world that still exists in north­ern Canada. It is not very long since I spoke and shared a whiskey or two with peo­ple who would have rec­og­nized the inhab­i­tants of Gar­gas as “folk just like us.”

Gay has devoted all his life to the Gar­gas caves. He had an appoint­ment to attend to, so we agreed to meet on the fol­low­ing day at his home pour un apéri­tif. He con­ve­niently lives in Loubrès, a short walk from the fro­magerie. It was a con­ver­sa­tion I eagerly looked for­ward to.

But what to do next? It was still mid-afternoon, and I might as well see some of the coun­try­side. M. Uchan had men­tioned that there was a medieval church or some sig­nif­i­cance, and some roman ruins another four kilo­me­ters to south. This would put me in the val­ley to east of the one Lom­brès was in, sep­a­rated by a wall of steep, forested hills. The topo­graph­i­cal maps indi­cated that there was a foot­path over the hills, in fact a frag­ment of the medieval trail of pil­grim­age known as El Camino de San­ti­ago. There seemed to plenty of time to find this trail, cross the hills, find the Roman bridge that was sup­posed to cross the lit­tle river Larise, and then make my way back to Lombrès.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

Thursday, March 24, 2016 — A Voyage to Blefuscu

The first part of my trip was a bit of a chal­lenge: thirty hours of con­tin­u­ous travel, and no sleep for forty hours. Every leg of the jour­ney had to match the next in a short time span, and I was to be met at the Mon­tré­jeau rail­way sta­tion at a spe­cific time. One missed con­nec­tion would put my finances at risk. There were two flights by Ice­landair (always more com­fort­able than most air­lines because the hefty Ice­landers require leg room) but, sadly, my stopover in Reik­javik was less than hour. No chance to stroll in one of my favourite towns. I could do noth­ing more than look out the win­dow at the black lava fields around Keflavik.

I had wor­ried about bor­der has­sles because of the ter­ror­ist attack in Brus­sels the pre­vi­ous day. Last year, Ice­land with­drew its appli­ca­tion for EU mem­ber­ship, which had only ten­ta­tive sup­port among the tra­di­tion­ally independence-minded Ice­landers, but it remains per­haps the eas­i­est entry point into Europe from Canada. No ques­tions, a quick pass­port stamp, and I was in. I could walk straight from the plane at Roissy with­out going through cus­toms. Roissy-Charles deGaulle is, however,an air­port the size of a small city, and requires some nav­i­ga­tion. After mak­ing my way through a maze of inclined tubes resem­bling a futur­is­tic ver­sion of the stair­cases of Hog­worts, I needed to take the dri­ver­less CDGVAL train five sta­tions to the part of the air­port where the Grande lignes of the SNCF trains depart for the south. There, I caught the train for Lyon, hav­ing time to spare only for a baguette with ham and cheese. The trains pull into the sta­tion at higher speeds than a Cana­dian train would go on open track. When under­way, they accel­er­ate to speeds that ViaRail in Canada could not imag­ine. The Paris-Lyon run nor­maly goes at just a bit under 200 mph (320kph). Trains com­ing in the oppo­site direc­tion whip by in a sec­ond, vis­i­ble only as a blue blur. Like most trav­ellers, I find rail travel vastly more com­fort­able, con­ve­nient, and civ­i­lized than air travel, and I’m ashamed that my coun­try has let its rail ser­vice, once its pride, decay into incom­pe­tence and tech­ni­cal back­ward­ness, while much of the rest of the world strides into the future.

At Lyon, I switched to another train, which took me on the longest rail seg­ment of my voy­age. It went through Avi­gnon, Nîmes, Mont­pe­lier, Beziers, Nar­bonne, and Car­cas­sone to Toulouse. An elderly lady explained to me the com­plex geol­ogy of the Mas­sif cen­tral, a mostly Devonian/Permian struc­ture that is mostly karst­land, but with vol­canic intru­sions. I strug­gled to trans­late geo­log­i­cal terms that I knew only in Eng­lish. For exam­ple, I ven­tured “ter­rain de type Karst” but the cor­rect form is “for­ma­tion kars­tique”. This regions marks the tran­si­tion from North to South, a divi­sion that is lin­guis­tic, cul­tural, cli­matic, and eco­log­i­cal. Once in the South,you are in a Mediter­ranean place. The archi­tec­ture reflects it. Plenty of red-tiled roofs, plain stucco walls, and when you get down to the coast, palm trees.

By the time I passed through Car­cas­sone, it was dark,so held lit­tle expec­ta­tion that I would see its fab­u­lous cas­tle. But it is flood-lit, and so huge that I glimpsed it in the far dis­tance in the train win­dow oppo­site. At Toulouse, I did no more than take a few steps across a plat­form to get on my last train, a milk run that would take me to Mon­tré­jean, in the foothills of the Pyrénées. I shared a com­part­ment with a snow­boarder who yearned to visit British Colum­bia (a log­i­cal ambi­tion for a snow­boarder — he even knew who Ross Rebagliati was).He brought me to another com­part­ment where a small group, young and old, was pass­ing around a gui­tqr. The snow­boarder didn’t play, but he sang excel­lent rap, pour­ing out a stream of lyrics with­out hesitation.

The train reached its des­ti­na­tion on time to the minute (please take note, ViaRail). My host, M.Michel Uchan, spot­ted me instantly in the crowd of one, I being the only pas­sen­ger to get off. M.Uchan has proven a most con­ge­nial host. He speaks French and Span­ish, but no Eng­lish. His French is the musi­cal accent of the South, where the final vow­els and con­so­nants that are silent in stan­dard French are clearly pro­nounced, and there is the rhyth­mic lilt you hear in Span­ish, Cata­lan or Ital­ian, rather than the machine-gun tempo of the North. Within a few min­utes we were in Loubrès, a vil­lage of eighty peo­ple that is uncom­pro­mis­ingly rural and Occ­i­tan. M. Uchan oper­ates a small fro­magerie, which pro­duces a local cheese of the vari­ety known as Tomme de Pyrénées, which I am most eager to taste, but for the moment, forty hours with­out sleep sends me promptly to bed.

Of Monsters and Men, and Of Men and Monsters

Ice­land, con­sid­er­ing its small pop­u­la­tion (329,100 at last count), has pro­duced a phe­nom­e­nal amount of rock music that has reached a global audi­ence. It’s as if Oshawa, Ontario or Eugene, Ore­gon each had a half-dozen world-level bands. Absurdly improb­a­ble, when you think of it. Reyk­javík is a lively lit­tle city, but its frisky music scene, what Ice­landers call jam­mið, is con­fined to a hand­ful of clubs in the “101” dis­trict: Café Rosen­berg, Kaf­fibarinn, Bar 11, Dil­lon, Den Danske Kro, The Celtic Cross, The Eng­lish Pub. After mak­ing the rounds, peo­ple stag­ger out­side to find a hot dog or a crushed sheep’s head as a post-gig snack. The hard-drinking Ice­landers take their jam­mið seri­ously. Bands and audi­ences mix freely in this pro­foundly infor­mal and egal­i­tar­ian coun­try. This small, but intense scene has pro­duced phe­nom­ena like the Sug­ar­cubes and Björk, Mínus, Sigur Rós, Quarashi, Sálin, Botnleðja, Maus, Agent Fresco, Samaris, Mam­mút, and Jakobínarína.

Ingólfr Arnarson founds the first settlement at Reykjavík in 874 A.D., laying the groundwork for jammið and the Icelandic music scene. An 1850 painting of dubious historical accuracy by Johan Peter Raadsig.

Ingólfr Arnar­son founds the first set­tle­ment at Reyk­javík in 874 A.D., lay­ing the ground­work for jam­mið and the Ice­landic music scene. He appears to be stand­ing pre­cisely at the spot where Kaf­fibarinn stands today. An 1850 paint­ing of dubi­ous his­tor­i­cal accu­racy by Johan Peter Raadsig.

In 2010, a new band emerged at the Músík­til­rau­nir, an annual bat­tle of the bands. Of Mon­sters and Men is com­prised of two lead singers/guitarists, Anna Bryn­dís Hilmars­dót­tir and Raggi Þorhalls­son, Bryn­jar Leif­s­son (gui­tar), Kristján Páll Kristjáns­son (bass), and Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmars­son (drums). Their sound was pol­ished from the begin­ning, solid indie rock in roughly the same vein as Muse or Mum­ford & Sons, maybe Death Cab for Cutie. Within a year, they had their first album out, My Head Is an Ani­mal, and it took the world by storm. “Lit­tle Talks”, “Dirty Paws”, “Moun­tain Sound” got exten­sive air­play in major world mar­kets, and all the other cuts were qual­ity work. Fame, world tours, and movie sound­tracks fol­lowed. But this sort of instant suc­cess is a noto­ri­ous peril for a good band. For three years, no sec­ond album. Music crit­ics and “seri­ous” lis­ten­ers for­got about them. I heard the sin­gles, but not the whole album until the spring of last year. It bowled me over. An intense, pas­sion­ate sound, catchy melodies, seri­ous lyrics.

Of Monsters and Men

Of Mon­sters and Men

I’m always run­ning behind. There’s so much music to lis­ten to. But I’ve just now heard the long-delayed sec­ond stu­dio album, Beneath the Skin, released in the sum­mer of 2015, as well as Live from Vat­na­garðar, which was released on a small scale in 2013. I like the new album even bet­ter than the first. The music is more restrained, more intro­spec­tive, not as grab-you-and-shake-you as the first round, but three cuts (“Crys­tals”, “Human”, and “I of the Storm”) have just as much hit-potential as their fore­run­ners. I was par­tic­u­larly taken, how­ever, by the qui­eter “Back­yard” and “Win­ter Sound” (which kind of reminded me of some old Wall of Voodoo songs). Beneath the Skin, I hear, did very well with both crit­ics and record-buyers. They did best of all here in Canada, where the album went gold and reached #1 on the charts. Most Ice­landers are flu­ent in Eng­lish, and use it both to access and com­mu­ni­cate to the outer world. All the songs on the two stu­dio albums are in English.

Of Men and Monsters

Of Men and Monsters

One thing has puz­zled me. I’ve encoun­tered no expla­na­tion of the band’s name, other than that Raggi sug­gested it. Had he read the bril­liant lit­tle sci­ence fic­tion novel Of Men and Mon­sters, by William Tenn? It came out in 1968, and has stayed in print. I read it as a kid, and reread it six years ago. It’s a lit­tle mas­ter­piece, with a razor’s edge bal­ance of satire and tragedy, cyn­i­cism and hope, and is one of the best fables of the Lit­tle Guys against the Big Thing you can read. Much of it would fit the moods that the band achieves in their music.

If you’ve never encoun­tered this old SF clas­sic, you have a plea­sur­able expe­ri­ence await­ing you. I reviewed it here in this blog.

Sunday, March 13, 2016 — Where I Stand

I will make my posi­tion plain. I am a Cana­dian, not an Amer­i­can, but like all Cana­di­ans I must pay close atten­tion to the pol­i­tics of the coun­try that bor­ders mine for 8,891 kilo­me­tres (5,525 miles), has ten times our pop­u­la­tion, with which we have (by far) the largest-scale trad­ing rela­tion­ship in the world, and with which we share a con­sid­er­able degree of our cul­ture. Our economies are so inter­twined that every polit­i­cal deci­sion that occurs in the U.S. imme­di­ately and some­times pro­foundly influ­ences our life. I have at times lived in the U.S., and have many friends there, as do most Cana­di­ans. But we are not Amer­i­cans, and some­times all has not been well between us. When the United States entered its dis­as­trous war in Viet­nam, and we were pres­sured to join in with that deba­cle, a major­ity of Cana­di­ans were opposed to it, and we stayed out of it. When, sub­se­quently, many young Amer­i­cans resisted the slav­ery of con­scrip­tion, and the cor­rup­tion of the war, we wel­comed them as hon­ourable refugees, just as we had wel­comed refugees from slav­ery in the 19th cen­tury. They were the true Amer­i­can patri­ots, and we respected them.

One of those great moral divi­sions is upon us. The United States has accom­plished many great and noble things, but in recent times, it has reached its low­est moral ebb in a hun­dred years. The upcom­ing elec­tion in the United States is cru­cial to both our coun­tries. If the Repub­li­can Party wins, then the U.S. is washed up as a coun­try, every decent prin­ci­ple it has fought for will be defeated, degraded and destroyed. This is a pro­found threat to my coun­try, which I love.

There have been two great men­aces to human dig­nity and free­dom in the last cen­tury. One was the con­stel­la­tion of total­i­tar­ian move­ments that dom­i­nated the first half of the cen­tury, which included Com­mu­nism, Nazism, Fas­cism, and their var­i­ous mimic and out­lier move­ments. The other is its mod­ern suc­ces­sor, the Con­ser­v­a­tive Move­ment that emerged in the United States in the last gen­er­a­tion and has slowly taken over its pub­lic life, and spread around the world, as Com­mu­nism did, through the influ­ence of cor­rupt intel­lec­tu­als, deluded suck­ers and fellow-travellers. But there is no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence between the two move­ments. The sec­ond is essen­tially just a reboot and re-branding of the first. In both cases, the aim is the same: the destruc­tion of free and demo­c­ra­tic soci­eties and the erect­ing of mil­i­taris­tic soci­eties ruled by a wealthy, all-powerful aris­toc­racy, in which most human beings will be dis­pos­able ser­vants, peas­ants and slaves. In both cases, human rights and lib­erty are to be sac­ri­ficed in the name of crack­pot eco­nomic the­o­ries. In both cases, the lead­ers of the move­ment mobi­lize racism, vio­lence, super­sti­tion and every base human pas­sion among the gullible to achieve their aims. The aims are the same, the meth­ods are the same, and the under­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy is the same. Only the slo­gans and catch-phrases dif­fer. Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz are mearly the tip of the ice­berg of evil. There is worse to come.

Any Amer­i­can who votes for the Repub­li­can Party in the upcom­ing fed­eral elec­tion is, as far as I am con­cerned, a trai­tor to their own coun­try, and a men­ace to mine. I will con­sider such a per­son to be beyond the pale of civ­i­liza­tion, a per­son to be shunned. Such a per­son will never be allowed to set foot in my home, I will never share food with them, and never, as much as pos­si­ble, ever speak to them. This deci­sion is final. It will never change. Ever.

I have spent the entirety of my life study­ing the abom­i­na­tions of aris­toc­racy and slav­ery, and sup­port­ing and pro­mot­ing democ­racy and free­dom. This is a crit­i­cal moment, and I wish to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind where I stand.

Some Concert Chestnuts

Ivan Bilbin’s illus­tra­tion to Pushkin’s Tale of the Golden Coquerel

Some­times one’s own uncon­scious snob­bery can deprive one of delight­ful expe­ri­ences. When I first started to lis­ten to clas­si­cal music, as a teenager, I scrimped and saved to pur­chase record­ings from the “bar­gain bins” in record stores. These were mostly cheap re-issue labels that had per­for­mances from a gen­er­a­tion before — often bril­liant ones, but with audio qual­ity that was no longer accept­able to audio­philes. The pieces were the stan­dard con­cert reper­toire, includ­ing many pieces that were extremely pop­u­lar with concert-goers, but not con­sid­ered par­tic­u­larly “deep.” When you lis­ten to a lot of music, you even­tu­ally tire of these con­cert work-horses, heard so many time, and stop play­ing them. As other, more arcane musi­cal inter­ests engage you, you for­get about them. You “know” them, of course, but they sit in your record col­lec­tion unplayed for years.

It’s a good idea to play them again, because they can bring back that spring-time feel­ing of dis­cov­er­ing the plea­sure of music. And often, you find that they are not nearly as weak as you have come to think of them. I recently played Niko­lai Rimsky-Korsakov’s suite from his opera Le coq d’or [The Golden Coquerel]. After Scheherazade and Capric­cio Espag­nol, this is prob­a­bly his most pop­u­lar work, and there were many record­ings avail­able in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Since then, I sus­pect it has dropped off of con­cert pro­grammes. Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush, play­ful orches­tra­tion, with its infu­sion of Cen­tral Asian musi­cal flour­ishes on a firm Russ­ian base, is not what peo­ple think of when they talk about “seri­ous” music. But there was tremen­dous artistry in it. Stravin­sky started out by imi­tat­ing him, and he was a sub­stan­tial influ­ence on Ravel and Debussy. In per­sonal char­ac­ter, he was not much like most com­posers: he main­tained a career as a naval offi­cer while simul­ta­ne­ously com­pos­ing and teach­ing music. Though a mil­i­tary man, he was a life-long lib­eral, and highly polit­i­cal. Le coq d’or has a polit­i­cal sub­text. It is based on a charm­ing re-telling of a folk­tale by Pushkin. But the author­i­ties in Tsarist Rus­sia took it’s plot about a fool­ish Tsar who starts a point­less war as a thinly veiled crit­i­cism of the dis­as­trous Sino-Russian war of 1905, and Rimsky-Korsakov had already been fired from his teach­ing post for sup­port­ing the stu­dent protests against the regime. The opera was banned, and its com­poser never heard it per­formed. The suite was put together from the opera score only weeks before his death, so he did not hear that either.

A stage production of the opera.

A stage pro­duc­tion of the opera.

I first heard the suite in a fine William Stein­berg per­for­mance. At least, I think it was fine, but I lost it long ago, and it is not read­ily avail­able. What I have now is a rea­son­ably good CD per­for­mance by David Zin­man and the Rot­ter­dam Phil­har­monic, and an old vinyl record­ing con­ducted by Issay Dobrowen, which is tol­er­a­ble but a bit lethargic.

(L-R) Ferde Grofé, George Gershwin, the impressario Roxy Rothafel, Paul Whiteman

(L-R) Ferde Grofé, George Gersh­win, the impres­sario Roxy Rothafel, Paul Whiteman

George Gershwin’s Rhap­sody in Blue is, of course, in no dan­ger of ever going out of fash­ion. But I hadn’t lis­tened to it in years, except as snatches inserted into movies. Sit­ting down and lis­ten­ing to it with real atten­tion reminded me how utterly delight­ful the piece is. No other piece of music can so per­fectly evoke the Amer­ica of opti­mism, high spir­its, and free­dom, where hope­ful immi­grant and African-American streams of music can fuse and weld. Gersh­win him­self called it a hymn to his coun­try. What bet­ter way to for­get, for a few min­utes at least, the awful spec­ta­cle of a coun­try now so degraded that ver­min like Don­ald Trump and Ted Cruz can run for Pres­i­dent? There are a gazil­lion record­ings of it, and I have too many of them to list, but I would say that among old record­ings, Earl Wild (con­ducted by Arthur Fiedler) and Oscar Levant’s are the most inspired, and though Leonard Bern­stein is best known as a con­duc­tor and com­poser, he was also a pianist, and his per­for­mance of the rhap­sody is one of the best. These are all, of course the “stan­dard ver­sion” with the 1945 orches­tra­tion by Ferde Grofé. George Gersh­win was a self-taught com­poser who began as a jazz musi­cian. When he com­posed the rhap­sody in 1924, he was not yet capa­ble of pro­duc­ing a full orches­tra­tion, so Grofé, a musi­cian in Paul Whiteman’s jazz orches­tra, but with some clas­si­cal train­ing, took up the task. He pro­duced a series of con­sec­u­tive orches­tra­tions, first for jazz band, then for suc­ces­sively larger orches­tras. The 1945 orches­tra­tion is superb. Grofés con­tri­bu­tion to the piece should not be down­played. Much of the piece’s verve and emo­tional force comes from his con­tri­bu­tion. You can see this when you lis­ten to ear­lier orches­tra­tions, such as the trun­cated one for Whiteman’s jazz band, or to the orig­i­nal solo piano and two piano ver­sions. Par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing is the exist­ing record­ing of Gersh­win him­self play­ing the solo ver­sion. He plays it incred­i­bly fast, prac­ti­cally at a gal­lop, and it feels very dif­fer­ent from stan­dard per­for­mances. After you have tried one of the stan­dard record­ings, take a look at Michael Tilson Thomas’s recon­struc­tions of the ear­lier orchestrations.

Grofé went on to write sev­eral orches­tral suites, many evok­ing Amer­i­can regions (Hawaii, San Fran­cisco, the Hud­son River, the Mis­sis­sippi, Ken­tucky, even Hol­ly­wood). In his youth, Grofé had worked as a news­boy, book­binder, truck dri­ver, type­set­ter, and steel­worker, and had wan­dered around the coun­try. The most suc­cess­ful of these pieces with the pub­lic was The Grand Canyon Suite, and this is a prime exam­ple of the sub­con­scious snob­bism I men­tioned: I don’t think I’ve lis­tened to it for decades. Nobody would call it “high­brow” music. It even uses sheet-metal light­ning and a whistling wind machine, for God’s sake! Not the men­tion per­cus­sive coconut shells used to sim­u­late the march of a burro. The work was immensely pop­u­lar in its day, but I doubt that it often gets a per­for­mance out­side of Ari­zona in this age. But I have three record­ings. One is a bat­tered vinyl directed by Leonard Slad­kin. On the B-side, it has the very early Mis­sis­sippi Suite, which is meant to con­vey the plot of Huck­le­berry Finn. Another is a thump­ing good per­for­mance by Toscanini that was broad­cast on national radio, and the house audi­ence was suf­fi­ciently unso­phis­ti­cated as to break into applause between move­ments. Toscanini was a great con­duc­tor, but also a shame­lessly hammy show­man. The sound qual­ity of this one is dread­ful, but the per­for­mance is mag­nif­i­cent. Almost as good is a lively per­for­mance by Eugene Ormandy, who was sort of Toscanini’s heir in the art of pleas­ing the con­cert audi­ence and sell­ing clas­si­cal music to a broad public.

A Grand Canyon burro.

A Grand Canyon burro.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 — Looking back at Alvar Aalto

What used to be called the “Inter­na­tional Style of Mod­ernism” in archi­tec­ture may have filled the planet with iden­ti­cal glass boxes, but there were always some archi­tects who never quite fit into its straight­jacket. Among them, the one that appealed to me most when I first started being inter­ested in archi­tec­ture (as a teenager) was the Finnish archi­tect and indus­trial designer Alvar Aalto (1898–1976). The Inter­na­tional Style worked with the credo of “form fol­lows func­tion,” but it was, I could see, a hol­low slo­gan. The rigid orthoxy of that kind of “mod­ernism” had noth­ing to do with “func­tion,” since all build­ings, no mat­ter what their pur­pose, loca­tion, or con­text, were the same. Build­ings in rain-soaked places that needed eaves couldn’t have eaves. The “func­tion” of cheap­ness, of course, deter­mined build­ing lay­outs, not the func­tion of what you were going to do in them. At first, Aalto paid lip-service to the mod­ernist ortho­doxy, but soon his build­ings started to devi­ate from it. Even­tu­ally he evolved a fluid style, often work­ing closely with his wife Aino, in which every aspect of a build­ing was con­sid­ered, includ­ing inter­nal sur­faces, light­ing, and fur­ni­ture, as an inte­gral whole. His scale was human, outer forms were play­ful and visu­ally inter­est­ing. He loved curv­ing, fluid lines, so that even today much of his work feels “sci­ence fiction-ish.” White­ness dom­i­nated the aes­thetic, but it was never a bor­ing blank­ness.
16-03-02 BLOG Aalto sanatorium16-03-02 BLOG Aalto room
These three images illus­trate what I mean. The one on the left is a tuber­cu­lo­sis sana­to­rium designed for the small Finnish town of Paimio in 1928, and com­pleted in 1932. At this time, Aalto was still in the orbit of offi­cial Mod­ernism, fol­low­ing Le Corbusier’s basic rules, but he was already lay­ing the foun­da­tions of his more holis­tic approach. Note the date of the design —- it still looks mod­ern. The sec­ond and third images show the kind of inte­rior space that Alvar and Aino con­ceived when the silent film had barely been dis­placed by the talkie. Notice that the forms are sim­ple, but not ster­ile. Human­ity and com­fort are the “func­tions” being served, not ide­o­log­i­cal con­for­mity, cheap­ness, or man­u­fac­tur­ing con­ve­nience. It still looks good.16-03-02 BLOG Alto Room 2

FILMSFEBRUARY 2016

(Tors 1954) Gog
(Pol­cino 2015) Rick and Morty: Ep.17 ― The Ricks Must Be Crazy
(New­ton 2015) Rick and Morty: Ep.18 ― Big Trou­ble In Lit­tle Sanchez
(Bar­ton 1949) Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff
(Kirk­land 1996) The Simp­sons: Ep.147 ― A Fish Called Selma
(Don­ner 1965) Perry Mason: Ep.237 ― The Case of the Gam­bling Lady
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chapter1 ― The Cho­sen Vic­tim
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chap­ter 2 ― The House in the Hills
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chap­ter 3 ― On the High Seas
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chap­ter 4 ― The Evil Eye
(Scott III 1996) The Simp­sons: Ep.148 ― Bart on the Road
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chap­ter 5 ― The Invis­i­ble Cir­cle
(Tay­lor 1934) The Return of Chandu [ser­ial]: Chap­ter 6 ― Chandu’s False Step
(Rear­don 1996) The Simp­sons: Ep.149 ― 22 Short Films About Spring­field
(Beau­mont 1989) Star Trek, the Next Gen­er­a­tion: Ep.54 ― Booby Trap Read more »